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What Exactly Is Empathy?

Feb 10

Empathy is the ability to emotionally comprehend what other people are going through, to see things through their eyes, and to put oneself in their shoes. Essentially, it is placing oneself in the shoes of another person and experiencing what they are experiencing.

When you witness someone suffering, you may be able to imagine yourself in their shoes and empathize with their situation.

While most people are quite aware of their own sentiments and emotions, getting into another person's brain can be more challenging. People who are able to empathize may "walk a mile in another's shoes," as it were. It enables people to comprehend what others are going through.

For many people, watching another person in suffering and reacting with apathy or even hate is unfathomable. However, the fact that some people do respond in this way plainly shows that empathy is not a universal response to others' pain.


Empathy's Signs

There are a few indicators that you have an empathic personality:

  • You have a knack for paying attention to what others have to say.
  • People frequently confide in you about their issues.
  • You have a keen sense of how other people are feeling.
  • You frequently consider how other people are feeling.
  • Others flock to you for guidance.
  • Tragic occurrences frequently overwhelm you.
  • You make an effort to assist people who are in need.
  • You have a good sense of when people aren't being truthful.
  • In social circumstances, you may feel fatigued or overwhelmed.
  • You genuinely care about other people.
  • Setting limits in your interactions with others is challenging for you.

Empathy causes you to be concerned about the well-being and happiness of others. It also implies that constantly thinking about other people's emotions might make you feel overwhelmed, worn out, or even overstimulated.



There are several forms of empathy that a person can have:

  • The capacity to comprehend and respond properly to another person's emotions is referred to as affective empathy. Such emotional understanding may cause someone to be concerned about the well-being of another person, or it may cause personal distress.
  • Somatic empathy is having a bodily reaction in response to what another person is going through. People may sometimes physically sense what another person is going through. When you observe someone else blushing or having an upset stomach, for example, you may blush or have an upset stomach as well.
  • Understanding another person's mental state and what they could be thinking in reaction to a circumstance is referred to as cognitive empathy. This is connected to theory of mind, or thinking about what other people are thinking, as defined by psychologists.



Humans are clearly capable of self-centered, if not cruel, conduct. A brief glance through any daily newspaper exposes a plethora of nasty, selfish, and horrific acts. So, why don't we all participate in such self-serving conduct on a regular basis? What makes us feel another person's grief and respond with kindness?

There are a lot of advantages to being able to empathize:

  • Empathy permits people to form social bonds with one another. People can behave correctly in social circumstances if they comprehend what others are thinking and experiencing. Social relationships are vital for both physical and psychological well-being, according to research. Empathizing with others aids in the development of emotional self-control. Emotional regulation is crucial because it helps you to regulate your emotions without being overwhelmed, even when you are under a lot of stress.
  • Empathy encourages people to help others. When you feel empathy for other people, you are more inclined to participate in helpful activities, and other people are more willing to help you when they feel empathy for you.



In every scenario, not everyone feels empathy. Some individuals are inherently more empathetic than others, but people also have a tendency to be more empathetic toward some people and less sympathetic to others.

The following are some of the several variables that contribute to this trend:

  • People's perceptions of each other
  • People's perceptions of other people's actions
  • What individuals hold responsible for the other's plight
  • Expectations and previous experiences


Empathy Obstacles

Cognitive biases, dehumanization, and victim-blaming are some of the reasons why people lack empathy.

Biases In The Mind

A multitude of cognitive biases can sometimes impact how people view the world around them. People, for example, frequently blame others' failings on internal attributes while blaming their own faults on external reasons.

These biases can make it harder to perceive all of the aspects that influence a situation and make it less probable for people to view things from another person's perspective.


Many individuals also get into the trap of believing that others who aren't like them don't feel or act the same way they do. This is especially prevalent when other individuals are physically separated from you.

People may be less inclined to feel empathy when seeing tales of a tragedy or conflict in a distant country if they believe those who are suffering are fundamentally different from themselves.

Accusing Others Of Being The Victim

When another person has had a traumatic event, it is common for others to blame the victim for their situation. This is why victims of crimes are frequently questioned about what they may have done differently to prevent the incident.

This proclivity originates from a need to think that the world is a just and fair place. People want to believe that they receive what they deserve, and that they deserve what they get, because it makes them feel that horrible things will never happen to them.


Empathy Research In The Past

In 1909, psychologist Edward B. Titchener coined the term empathy as a translation of the German phrase einfühlung (meaning "feeling into"). To explain empathy, several hypotheses have been offered.

Explanations From A Neuroscientific Perspective

Empathy is felt differently in different parts of the brain, according to research. Recent research has centered on the cognitive and neurological mechanisms that underpin empathy. Researchers discovered that distinct parts of the brain, such as the anterior cingulate cortex and the anterior insula, are involved in empathy.

Empathy is thought to have important neurobiological components, according to research.

The capacity to mirror and duplicate the emotional responses that others would experience if they were in comparable conditions is aided by the activation of mirror neurons in the brain.

According to functional MRI study, the inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) of the brain plays a vital role in the sense of empathy.

According to studies, persons with impairment to this part of the brain have a hard time detecting emotions expressed through facial expressions.

Emotional Justifications

Some of the early studies of empathy focused on how feeling what others are feeling permits people to have a wide range of emotional experiences. Sympathy, according to philosopher Adam Smith, helps us to experience things that we may not otherwise be able to completely feel.

Empathy can be felt for real people as well as fictional characters. Empathy for fictitious characters, for example, helps people to have emotional experiences that they would not otherwise be able to have.

Explanations That Are Prosocial

Sympathy, according to sociologist Herbert Spencer, provided an adaptive role and contributed in the species' survival. Empathy motivates people to help others, which strengthens social interactions. Humans are sociable beings by nature. Things that help us in our interpersonal connections are also beneficial to us.

People are more inclined to participate in prosocial acts that help others when they have empathy. Empathy for others is linked to generosity and heroism, among other things.